Monday, May 5, 2008

For more than a decade, English petroleum geologist Colin Campbell has been sounding the warning bell about the coming of peak oil and its disturbing ramifications for the world. Since 2005 Dr. Robert Hirsch has been giving specific warnings for the United States through a series of Department of Energy-sponsored reports outlining the dangers to America if the peak finds us unprepared. And in the past year, the GAO, the National Petroleum Council, and scores of other organizations and governments around the world have reported on the severe consequences the world might incur once the peak has been achieved.

The issue is not simply a concern that we will have to pay outrageous prices for a gallon of gas. If that were the worst of it, the situation would be difficult but manageable. The reality, however, goes deeper and is much more troubling. There are multiple problems affecting the world that are having a decidedly negative net effect: a global rise in demand for crude oil, the plateau in the production of crude oil (which may indicate the peak has already been reached) and continued global population growth. Together, these three factors are serving to shove the world into a crisis that has ominous possibilities.

When there isn’t enough oil to satisfy global demand, the price obviously rises. Perhaps less obvious, however, is the effect this price increase has on the world’s ability to produce food. Every stage of the food production cycle is affected by petroleum and a rise in the price of a barrel of oil has compounding effects: It costs more to run the farm machinery, more to buy the fertilizer, more to take it to market and more for processing. In the United States, this results in raised eyebrows at the grocery store. In parts of the world where upwards of 75 percent of a family’s income goes to buying food, it results in social unrest and riots.

The United Nations estimates that global population is growing at the rate of 78 million people a year — roughly the equivalent of adding the population of Germany to the world every year. According to Energy Information Administration data released earlier this month, global petroleum production has been on a relatively level plateau for the past 44 consecutive months.

But at the same time, the economies of China and India have continued growing, which accelerates the consumption of petroleum-related products and increases the amount and quality of food each person eats. These three facts have conspired to produce a global shortage of crude oil which has exacerbated the world’s inability to feed itself. If the world cannot produce significantly more barrels of oil per day, while at the same time the developing world’s appetite continues to increase and the global population continues its climb, there won’t be enough oil to go around or enough food for everyone to eat.

In just the past two weeks we have been given a foretaste of what that might mean as news organizations have reported rioting and social unrest in developing countries around the world as a result of food shortages; Canadian Bank analyst Jeff Rubin predicted oil prices will “soar to $225 a barrel by 2012.” Many experts expect these twin afflictions to remain for the foreseeable future.

This is not the time for more talk and half-measures. Facts on the ground demand urgent, robust and sustained action at the highest levels of government. The America public gets it, as an April 20 poll by found that 76 percent of Americans “believe that their government should make long term plans to replace oil as a primary source of energy.” With such a high percentage of the population agreeing with such a necessity, where are our national leaders on this issue? While our presidential candidates continue to be satisfied discussing such critical issues as what someone’s pastor said, (who is bitter and who gets angry a lot), there has been not one substantive exchange regarding the most pressing issue facing our country.

Someone must step up and lead before a crisis of global proportions is thrust upon us and our only option is the implementation of draconian damage-control measures. Pray such a leader surfaces soon.

Maj. Daniel L. Davis is a Cavalry officer who fought in Desert Storm in 1991 and served in Afghanistan in 2005.

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